Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (Katahdin Loop Road)

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(Note: The Katahdin Loop Road opened for the 2020 season on Saturday, May 23. U.S. National Park Service advises to drive with caution and be alert for soft spots and rough road sections. Haskell and Big Spring Brook Huts are temporarily closed, and updates will be posted to the NPS website.)

During a visit to Baxter State Park, dad and daughter found ourselves with sore legs and a half-day to explore, and we decided to check out Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument via the Katahdin Loop Road.  We got our direction from a Katahdin Chamber of Commerce visitor’s guide and a pamphlet from Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), but we had followed the progress of the Monument since its creation in August 2016.

The standard route into the South Entrance is via Route 11 from E. Millinocket/Medway to the Swift Brook Road along the Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway, but we were feeling adventurous, and took the Stacyville Road north from Millinocket to where it meets the Swift Brook Road.  We savored the lonely ride along this quiet logging road, occasionally startling game birds (this is not the way to take a low-clearance or non 4×4 vehicle).

The 17-mile loop of Katahdin Loop Road is punctuated by meadows, bogs, and ridges, and the south and west parts of the loop boast excellent views of Katahdin and the surrounding area.  This is an opportunity to see the Monument and cover distance in a vehicle, while having the chance to get out and explore at a variety of hiking paths and overlooks.  The best map of the loop we found (which I wish we had when we were there, as it is also an excellent interpretive guide) was from the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, and can be found here.

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Lynx Pond

The Lynx Pond Walk is shortly past the Loop Road Gate, on the right just past the Mile 2 marker.  Shortly after the trailhead is a parking area on the left of the Loop Road.  This is a very short walk through the woods to a small boardwalk by the pond, and a spot for quiet reflection and wildlife viewing.

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Looking south from The Overlook on Katahdin Loop Road.  The large lake is Millinocket Lake.
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Views of Katahdin from The Overlook on Katahdin Loop Road

Katahdin towers over the loop, and there are multiple spots around the Loop Road with views of the lakes and mountains to the west and south, particularly The Overlook, between Miles 6 and 7, which conveniently has a picnic spot and a toilet.

We continued around the Loop Road, and got out to stretch our legs again at the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) and trail to Barnard Mountain, passing over Katahdin Brook and by the IAT lean-to.  This wide logging road made for a sunny trail, and though we did not make the turn towards the Barnard Mountain summit, we enjoyed the walk, and the familiar plants and animals that inhabit newly overgrown woodcuts, with blue jays diving across our path and into the trees.  The Barnard Mountain trail itself is a moderate 4-mile round trip with summit views of Katahdin and Katahdin Lake to the west.

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Late summer flowers and plants along the IAT

The IAT continues from the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at Baxter Peak across Maine, into Canada, across to Greenland, and Europe, to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.  For a great exploration of the concept of the IAT, see On Trails by Robert Moor, reviewed on this blog.

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Moose tracks and droppings on the IAT

There are seven mountains in the Monument to hike, including Barnard, as well as paddling opportunities and waterfalls.  The Loop Road was quiet, as were the trails, with natural sounds, and only a few others exploring the area.  A bumpy drive back down Stacyville Road took us to Millinocket, where we devoured a Hawaiian pizza without remorse at the Millinocket House of Pizza.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument is a special place, and we will be back there for hiking, biking, and paddling.  The views during peak foliage season must be spectacular.  Ensure you plan ahead, bring maps, and a cooler with water and snacks, as there are no facilities at the Monument, and cell coverage ranges from little to non-existent.  But that’s probably what you’re looking for in the first place.

5 steps to getting back on the path: Ideas, resources, tactics, and links for hiking Maine in 2018

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Maine’s seasons are different than those of our neighbors to the south- sometimes the resolutions of the New Year are still buried under several feet of snow, even at the beginning of Daylight Savings.  I believe it’s important to get outside in the winter either way, but this article will focus on planning for the traditional hiking season.

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Step 1: Create a difficult, even unrealistic goal.

  • How we did it in 2017: In the winter of 2016-2017, we decided to attempt the 100 Mile Wilderness.  The difficulty of this task forced us to create a training schedule, and to prepare our gear and bodies one piece at a time for a “capstone” hike, so that we were not fully ready for it until we stepped onto the trail.  The training then became part of the journey, instead of being a series of unrelated excursions.  And we also had a blast doing it.
  • How you can do it in 2018: Pick a goal, and plan for it.  Check out this great article by Carey Kish on Ten Great Hikes You Should Do in 2018.  Or this one, again from Maine Today, on 10 Brag-Worthy Hikes in New England.  Pick one outside your comfort zone, something you haven’t done before.  If you are a more experienced hiker or backpacker, do the same with longer, multi-day hikes.  Try the Section Hiker blog for ideas.  Great ideas in the area include Maine’s Bigelow Range, the Presidential Traverse in New Hampshire, and even the Long Trail in Vermont.  Or maybe you are tired of explaining why you have lived in Maine for X number of years, and never been to Katahdin’s summit.  Make it challenging.

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Step 2: Make yourself accountable, find a partner if you can, and lock in your plans.

  • How we did it in 2017: Daughter and dad agreed on our training plan and final goal.  Hiking together is fun.  We told people (family, friends, co-workers, gear salespeople) we were going to hike the 100 Mile Wilderness together.  That made it hard to back out.  We also set aside vacation days for the attempt, and later, booked a Baxter State Park parking pass ahead of time for Katahdin.  Planning is fun, too, and having these outdoor excursions to look forward to can be soothing, depending on your life situation and “day job.”
  • How you can do it in 2018: Start with the end goal in mind, and back up to the current day, making incremental additions to your training plan.  For accountability, book your arrangements early (vacation days, lodging, re-supply) so you are motivated to follow up on your investment.  Put everything on a calendar.  In general, buying a state park season pass is a good deal, and will prompt you to get out there.  Maine’s is $55 for individuals, or $105 for a vehicle pass, and free for seniors. The White Mountain National Forest offers an annual pass for $30, and an annual household pass for $40.  These passes also allow you to forgo the hassle of trying to find a pen and exact change at the many self-service kiosks at trailheads, and to support our great parks.

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Step 3: Let experts do the work for you.

  • How we did it in 2017: We devoured the books and blog posts we could find on the 100 Mile Wilderness (check this out), and purchased the Appalachian Mountain Club Guide to Maine, as well as the maps for the 100 Mile.  For our training hikes, we consulted the Maine Mountain Guide and the White Mountain Guide (skip to Recommended Hikes, get in the car, and go).
  • How you can do it in 2018: Buy the AMC Maine Mountain Guide and White Mountain Guide.  Just do it.  They come with maps, they are well-researched, portable, and can serve as a journal for hikes completed.  Also, follow Philip Werner’s Section Hiker blog (mentioned above) and Carey Kish’s columns on Maine Today.com.  Ask at Information Centers for actual information, and engage with park rangers and volunteers.  In addition, join the Appalachian Mountain Club.  It’s cheap, most of the membership fee is tax deductible, it supports trails, and they sponsor a ton of group activities/hikes for all skill levels.  Follow the people above on Twitter to get updates and ideas, as well as publications like Backpacker Magazine and Outside, which also has an excellent podcast series.

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Step 4: If your plans are disrupted, do “something” anyway.

  • How we did it in 2017: We couldn’t always get out on the trail.  School, work, travel, injuries, commitments came up that kept us out of the woods.  But we figured out ways to work through.  Daughter played basketball, and dad focused on weight room exercises (lunges, box jumps, squats) that strengthened legs for the terrain of the 100 Mile.  We skied.  On a couple weekends we couldn’t hike, or were out of town somewhere, we signed up for several 5K road races – try Running In The USA.  The way to get better at doing hard things is to do hard things.  Just do something.
  • How you can do it in 2018: Shorter hikes can be very rewarding when time is not on your side.  Try a big-payoff one like Burnt Meadow Mountain or Pleasant Mountain, steep hikes with great views.  Try trail running, which is just hiking’s skinnier cousin.  There are trail running groups throughout Maine.  Baxter Outdoors does a great race series, which might take you to some places you haven’t been, help you meet some like-minded people, benefit charity, and get some free beer.  Here are some tips to get ready for hiking with a pack from Backpacker MagazineUnderstand your limits, particularly with an injury, but focus on the things that you can do.  For example, dad broke his right wrist descending Katahdin in September 2017, and this precluded a lot of activities, but still allowed him to hike, and as a result he developed more dexterity in his left hand.  A caveat: all these things help, but hiking with a pack seems to be a singular exercise, and the best way to get better at hiking is to hike (see above regarding hard things).

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Step 5: Let the momentum propel you to staying on the path.

How we did it in 2017: Despite our difficulties at the end of the 100 Mile attempt, we were both invigorated by the hiking we’d done, and talked about more goals.  Daughter had never climbed Mt. Washington or Katahdin, and felt strong after our training.  It was only mid-July, so the good times we’d had kept us hiking, and we completed both of these mountains, as well as some great hikes in between.  We started taking more pictures, and talked about capturing our adventures in this blog, which we began last fall, right after our Katahdin hike.

How you can do it in 2018: Use the aforementioned accountability to keep you going, locked in to activities, and check in with people who are doing the same.  You will feel stronger each time you get out there, and maybe your goals will change by the time you hit your big hike.  You will see intriguing side trails and places along the way.  If you are into social media, use it to catalog your progress.  You won’t find any “look at me shirtless doing yoga on top of a mountain” selfies on this blog, but if that’s your thing, and helps you…  Either way you will have fun and get outside.

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)

Katahdin at summer’s end

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On September 9, 2017, we hiked to the summit of Mt. Katahdin from the Chimney Pond and Cathedral Trails in Maine’s Baxter State Park.  This was the culmination of our 2017 hiking season, begun with a plan in the beginning of the year to hike the 100 Mile Wilderness of the Appalachian Trail together.  We are a father and daughter in Maine, and this blog is a project to capture the experience of exploring the Pine Tree State’s unique outdoors.  We are by no means experts, but we plan to recommend the things that worked for us – gear, trails, techniques, as well as to document the missteps we have taken, even if just for our own amusement.

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A longer description of this hike can be found here, along with recommendations and maps.

11/12/17: An update on this particular Katahdin hike in September, in advance of full hike/blog post content- X-rays a couple weeks after the hike showed dad broke his wrist during the rainy descent down the Saddle Trail.  This, combined with our 100-Mile Wilderness experience, finally convinced us of the utility of hiking poles, and we bought some Voli Trekking Poles.

9/8/18: Another successful hike of Katahdin, this time via the Knife Edge (more on that soon).  One of the aforementioned Voli hiking poles snapped during the descent.  Better a pole than a wrist.  Amazon no longer stocks them, so we wonder if others had the same problem.

(Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, and as an Amazon Associate Hiking in Maine blog earns from qualifying purchases.)